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Retiree becomes a runner for local food bank

When Susan Cooper began volunteering at the Helping Hand Food Bank in Bradford in the fall of 2019 – it was just in time to learn the ropes before the pandemic began
Susan Cooper, middle, at the recent Soup sampling event at the legion in support of the Helping Hand Food Bank

Everything changed in March 2020.

While most of us struggled to cope with a new way of life under COVID-19 pandemic guidelines, Susan Cooper turned her volunteer duties into a calling for retirement.

When Cooper began volunteering at the Helping Hand Food Bank in Bradford in the fall of 2019 – it was just in time to learn the ropes before the pandemic began.

“When COVID hit, we lost a lot of volunteers, because quite a few of them were elderly and then we had to also change our protocols, about how we were going to deliver the food or administer the program – so it changed quite a bit there,” Cooper said. Patrons were no longer allowed physically into the food bank house and the 100 volunteers dropped to approximately 30 to carry on supporting the clients.

“It just became a whole different kind of dynamic trying to manage the program,” she said.

Changes made included limiting choices to what the Ontario Association of Food Banks deemed necessary dietary requirements.

“Instead of the clients sort of getting their choices when they would come into the house, they could choose but what we had to do was prepack bags based on the information that was given to us by the head food bank network, and the other food banks and how they were handling it,” she said. “That was difficult because the clients were used to having choices and now they didn’t. But at least we were still administering the program and they’re still getting food and they’d still get their meat, milk, eggs, and margarine. So their basics they were getting, so we just had to manage the program that way going forward – we’re still doing – they still have to line up outside – since March 2020.”

So Cooper became the runner. For a few hours each week, a front-door person takes the orders, a receptionist takes the calls, and Cooper runs the orders back and forth for each patron. “When you’re running, you’re running for the whole two hours.,” she said. “Hey, I like it – it’s exercise.”

With more people using the food bank during the pandemic and food prices rising in every sector, Helping Hand president Carolyn Khan said they helped almost 1,000 clients in December alone. Khan said that 3,057 visits annual visits translated into more than 8,230 individuals needing support from the local food bank.

“And it’s the same people over and over. In a nutshell, almost 1,000 people in Bradford use the food bank monthly,” Khan said.

As for Cooper, Khan is thrilled to have the new volunteers – now back up to 80 – at the food bank. “And Susan is one of our relatively newer board members. She brings her own set of skills, she’s knowledgeable and social and has a great community spirit. It’s refreshing to have Susan on our board and to work with her,” Khan said.

Cooper said she enjoys knowing she can give the families specific items they requested, or perhaps a little something special when treats become available. “My experience is, I absolutely love this program and I really feel it makes a big difference to what you’re doing, especially now. Had I known going into this program what the future would be, you don’t realize what an essential service it is,” she said.